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The French in Early Florida: In the Eye of the Hurricane Hardcover – August 14, 2000

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

"A useful, informative study, particularly to historians not well acquainted with French colonial history. . . . [It] will probably be the authoritative narrative of the events surrounding Fort Caroline’s brief existence."—Gayle K. Brunelle, California State University, Fullerton

John McGrath offers a careful reconstruction of the dramatic fate of the expeditions that attempted to plant a permanent French presence on North America's eastern seaboard during the 1560s--the first full treatment of these events from the French perspective. This campaign became one of the most stunning defeats in the history of European colonialism when Spanish commander Pedro Menéndez de Avilés destroyed France’s Fort Caroline and its relief fleet during the late summer and fall of 1565.

McGrath analyzes and reconstructs events as the French and the Spaniards tried to outmaneuver and outguess each other. The fatal weakness of the French ultimately turned out to be the inability of their leaders, especially Jean Ribault, to carry out orders--not, as most historians have claimed, that French designs were poorly conceived. By comparison, the decisiveness, ingenuity, and extraordinary leadership of Menéndez enabled him to defeat his rivals in the face of extreme adversity.

Until now, McGrath argues, this story has been told either inaccurately or incompletely. By scrutinizing written testimonies left by participants on both sides, he re-creates the conditions and perspectives of the actors involved and reevaluates how and why they made the crucial decisions that ended in such a bloody tragedy. Claiming that this initiative was far from a hopeless cause, he demonstrates that the French came tantalizingly close to wresting the east coast of North America from Spanish imperial control.

John T. McGrath, assistant professor of social science at Boston University’s College of General Studies, has written numerous articles on French and French colonial history.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida; 1st edition (August 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081301784X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813017846
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,831,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder how the English managed to settle the current United States East Coast with little Spanish opposition? Most people think of the famous Spanish Armada defeated off the coast of Britain in the late 16th century as paving the way.
John McGrath's new book, "The French in Early Florida", relates, for most of us, a brand new chapter in the the era of Colonial conquest in America, more than twenty years before the Armada, that changed the history of where the lines were finally drawn between the Spanish, French and English, and helps explain clearly, for the first time, why the French ended up so far to the North in Canada, and why the Spanish stopped their expansion at the northern border of Florida.
Taking complex politics, stretched and distorted by conflicting forces of nationalism, and the Protestant Reformation, McGrath clearly explains how the French and Spanish battled for a beach head in Florida and how this confrontation affected not just American Colonial history, but the very important history of the reformation in Europe, nearly tearing apart France and further polarizing the intolerant Spanish monarchy and its partner, the Catholic Church.
History is really made by people, and this book brings alive the colorful people that fomented and fought the battles for dominance in Florida. The primary source material for this work was difficult to research and the first hand recounts conflicting and fragmented. The big achievement here was using these source materials to build detailed portraits of the main characters, deducing their motivations and rationale for the actions that they took.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John McGrath had his work cut out for him. There are very little source material concerning the French colony in Florida in the 1560s and a good deal of what there is contradicts itself. McGrath offers a nice, if somewhat short, survey on the failed French colony though his work is better on the European intrigue behind the effort than the colony itself. McGrath takes aim at some other theories that see the colony along the St. Johns as a noble pursuit (namely those of the late U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett, a scholar of the colony, who argued that this was an experiment in religious liberty). While McGrath's idea that the men and women of La Caroline were pawns in a greater game is intriguing, he often takes his argument further than his evidence--no surprise given the scarcity of sources. The appendixes are excellent. The narrative is solid and McGrath does a solid job in keeping the story moving though he is not the most dynamic of writers. One serious objection--this is a short book with around 170 pages of actual readable content not including appendixes, notes, bibliography, index etc. The University Press of Florida should be ashamed for selling this small a book at the price of $50.
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Format: Hardcover
The book gives a comprehensive description of the efforts of the French to establish a colonial presence in North America and the successful efforts of the Spanish to stop those efforts.

There is one major flaw in the book. No historic Spanish, French or English map ever placed Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River. This is a idea that was promoted by economic development leaders in Jacksonville, FL during the 1930s. Maps from all three nations place Fort Caroline on the Altamaha River in Georgia. In his memoir, the captain of Fort Caroline repeated talked about dispatching parties to go up the May River (Altamaha River) to the mountains where gold was being mined by the natives. There are no mountains in Florida and there is no gold in Florida. No 16th century French artifacts have been found in Florida, but they have been found on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. Fort Caroline in Jacksonville is a scaled down replica of a French fort built in 1966 on land donated by the City of Jacksonville. In no way does the location match the description of Fort Caroline's surroundings, as described by the French.

There is one other point which should be brought out. Rene' de Laudonniere's memoir states that the Native Americans living around Fort Caroline were the Alecmani. Their arch-enemies were the Timucua living about 100 miles away. Florida scholars have fudged history by stating that the Timucua lived around Fort Caroline so that Fort Caroline would appear to be somewhere in northeastern Florida among the Timucua. This book perpetuates that error.
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